Lance Corporal William NIVEN 1st Battalion Black Watch. Service No. 8104.

William Niven has sat for over twenty years on the periphery of my father’s family tree.  A chance conversation at the end of last year made me unearth the hand written tree that an elderly relative sent to my Dad and research William.

Today is the centenary of piper William Niven’s death at La Bassee.

William Niven was born 14th October 1878 at Fordelhill, Leuchars, Fife where his father James Niven worked as a farm servant.  He married Elizabeth (Lizzie) Cramb Lammond on 19th December 1913 at Laidlaw’s Temperance Hotel, St Leonard’s  Street, Perth.

On the 10th February 1915 his death was announced in the Perthshire Advertiser:

“Stanley Soldier Killed

Mrs Niven, who since the outbreak of war has resided with relatives in Commercial Street, Bridgend, Perth, was officially notified to-day of the death of her husband, Corporal William Niven, of the 1st Black Watch.  The deceased served for eight years in the Army, and was called up with the reserves.  Prior to August he was employed as postman at Stanley.  Sad to relate, a baby was born to Mrs Niven a short time ago.”

Five days later the Dundee Evening Telegraph published the following photograph and summary of his service.

William Niven

“The parents of Corporal William Niven, 1st Black Watch, who reside at Bridgend, Ceres, have received information that their son had been killed in action at La Bassee on the 25th January.  He enlisted in the Black Watch at Perth in 1901, and was eight years with the colours.  He served most of his time in India, but he also took part in the South African War, for which he held the medal.  He was called up with the Reserves when the war broke out, and took part in the great struggle round Mons and Charleroi, and was wounded in the retreat from Mons.  After being in hospital for some time in France he once more returned to the firing line, fighting in all engagements with his regiment in which they were engaged until he fell at La Bassee.  He was 36.”

We Will Remember Them.

Sources: ;



Wha’s Like Us, Stirling

On Saturday I attended the “Wha’s Like Us” Family History event at Stirling.  Organised by Stirling Archives it combined a number of talks and a small family history fair.

The opening talk by Richard McGregor, chairman of the Clan Gregor Society gave an overview of DNA and its use as a tool for genealogy.  This was followed by Stirling Council archivist Pam McNicol who talked enthusiastically about the rich source of detail that can be found in Poor Law records.  She accompanied her talk with some fascinating examples that illustrated how useful these records can be at providing personal details unlikely to be found in any other official registers.

Over the lunch break I took some time to wander round the nearby Holy Rude kirkyard and of course took one or two photographs of gravestones.

Holy Rude Kirkyard, Stirling

On my walk back I passed Cowane’s Hospital.  Founded in 1637 as an almshouse – it has also served as a hospital, Guildhall, isolation ward during the 1832 cholera epidemic and as a museum.  It now houses a coffee shop and an artist in residence .  The future of the building is currently under discussion.

Cowane's Hospital Stirling

Adjacent to the Hospital was something that caught my attention.  A metal sign explained:

 “Shortly after Cowane’s Hospital was built this area was laid out as a garden with lilies, carnations and double yellow roses and with cherry and apricot trees nailed to the walls.  The Bowling Green was laid out in 1712 by the Earl of Mar’s gardener and is now one of the oldest bowling greens in Scotland”.

Cowane's Hospital Bowling Green, Stirling

The website suggests that bowling in Scotland dates back much earlier –  to the reign of King James IV.  Sadly this one no longer appears to be used as a bowling green, but it is fascinating to consider who might have played there over the last three hundred years.

Heading back to the Tolbooth, I passed The Boy’s Club reconstructed in 1929 from a much earlier building.  It has a number of mottos on the exterior including this one above one of the windows:

Quarrelling is taboo

For the afternoon session I opted for the talk by Ross Blevins, senior steward at Stirling Castle.  Using account books he gave a very animated presentation on the castle during the reign of James IV.  He was able to paint a detailed picture of daily life and suggest evidence to prove and disprove some tales from the period.

The final presentation tied in to the “Off the Page”, Stirling Book Festival.  Author Chris Brookmyre was presented with his family history by Stirling archives.  In a question and answer session author Gordon Brown discussed some of the findings and any parallels Chris saw with his own life and his writing.

It was an interesting range of talks and I certainly enjoyed my brief walk through Stirling’s ‘Top of the Town’ and some of the surprises it revealed.

Tolbooth, Stirling

What’s in a name?

It seemed appropriate to start this blog with the story of my own name.  Just as my maternal Gran ignited my passion for genealogy, she was also responsible for choosing my name.  An avid Scrabble player, she took the initials from family names and arranged them to give:

Scrabble Letters


M – Aunt Muriel; E – Great-Granny Elizabeth Edward; R – Grandad Robert; L – Grandad Laing and E –  Mum Elizabeth.

As I child I wasn’t grateful for my name.  At school, I stood out from the Kirstys and Morags in my class – not always a good thing.  In adulthood it has resulted in some hilarious spellings. My favourite has to be Merie.  However now, as a genealogist I’m particularly thankful to Gran.


Well it makes me think why Betsy was called Betsy or why Horace is known in the family as Bert.  When I started researching our Palmer Family Tree, my father-in-law didn’t know his grandmother’s maiden name.  When I discovered it was Jeffery his brother piped up, “oh yes I was named Jeff after her”!!

I learned something very useful that day – always question where a name came from. 

For many families the traditional Scottish naming patterns dictated by the order of birth if a baby was named after their parent, grandparent, aunt or uncle. However, look beyond the first to the middle name and a family connection might be uncovered.  Of course sometimes, there is no link to the family.  The choice of name may have been based on the parents’ favourite film stars, military commanders or even the doctor who delivered the baby.

My name is not unique; when I married into the Palmers I discovered I shared it with five members of my husband’s extended family. Gran’s choice of name is nevertheless always a talking point.  It also reminds me to consider the possible origins of a name – another tool in the genealogical research process.

I think my Gran would be pleased.